Sailing Glossary

The Penny Whiting Sailing School makes learning to sail so easy and enjoyable that our students often tell us that the hardest part is learning the lingo.
The list below covers a few terms for your interest. When used aboard practically they will make more sense.

How to talk like a sailor:

Aft: The back of the boat; also called the stern.
Beam: Middle or the widest part of the yacht.
Boom: It hangs above the cockpit and behind the mast horizontally.
Bow: The front or pointy end of the yacht (to remember, think of it this way – you bow to the front).
Cabin: The area down below the deck. It’s always referred to as ‘down below’, never ‘downstairs’.
Cleat: Plastic with teeth or metal shapes like anvils, used to secure sheets, halyards or lines (all ropes).
Cockpit: The area you work the sails while sailing. A good place to sit.
Deck: Anywhere you can walk around above the interior of the yacht.
Forestay: Wire at the front of the boat used to support the mast.
Genoa: An overlapping headsail, bigger than a jib.
Halyard: A rope or wire that hoists a sail.
Head: Toilet of a yacht.
Headsail: A sail attached to the forestay that is part of the rigging holding up the mast.
Heel: When the yacht leans over while sailing USUALLY with the wind forward of the beam.
Helm: Where the skipper steers the yacht; the steering station.
Hull: The whole structure of the boat that sits in the water.
Jib: A smaller size sail.
Keel: Heavy deep fin structure under the hull to hold the yacht upright.
Mainsail: The sail that attaches to mast.
Mast: Vertical pole held up by rigging; also called the stick or spar.
Port: The left side of the yacht, when facing the bow or front.
Rigging: Wires that hold up the mast to keep it stiff and stable.
Sheet: A rope or line that controls a sail.
Skipper: The captain of the yacht; the person who steers the boat.
Starboard: The right side of the yacht, when facing the bow or front.
Stay: Wires for steadying a mast.
Stern: The back of the boat; also called aft.
Tack: Has two meanings: i) to change direction by passing through or across the wind; and ii) the bottom forward corner of a sail.
Winch: Cylindrical metal drum to wind sails in. They always turn clockwise.